Watching the Game of Thrones television series or reading the books by George R.R. Martin is an experience. With its highs and lows, no wonder so many newcomers have fallen in love with the fantasy world of dragons, knights, and kick-ass warrior queens.
Martin has transported us into a world filled with interesting (and numerous) characters, compelling plot twists, and interesting story arcs. It’s an incredible journey for a viewer or reader.
As a fan and observer of the wildly successful series, here are several of my takeaways for authors inspired by Game of Thrones. Warning—SPOILER ALERT. If you’ve never watched the show or read the books and you plan to someday, you shouldn’t read this unless you don’t mind knowing about major characters and plot lines.
1. Create an open loop for extra intrigue.
An open loop is a simple and effective marketing technique. You tell a story to your readers and don’t finish it until much later. The unanswered questions leave your readers wondering what happened. This hooks your readers and keeps them reading.
Martin starts the first book with a scene in which three brothers of the Nights Watch search the forest for a wildling camp that had been attacked, leaving everyone in it dead. Things don’t end well for the trio, and the reader finds out that something sinister is at work. Many questions are raised, but nothing is answered until much later.
In fact, we don’t find out until the series finale of Season Two that there is an army of dead “White Walkers” forming. Throughout the show, there are hints of the Walkers from Old Nan, but most people in Westeros consider the old stories to be myth.
How can you introduce a part of your plot early on, then leave it unanswered until much later?
Stringing along your readers is okay. Don’t reveal all your information at once. Give them just enough at the very beginning to want to keep reading.
2. Create characters you love to hate.
There have been many memorable villains on Game of Thrones from King Joffrey to the Mountain to Ramsay Bolton.
Perhaps the strongest, and the most successful villain so far has been Cersei Lannister. Driven by greed for power, she has lied, betrayed, and manipulated her way into becoming Queen of the Iron Throne.
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With her mean girl sneers and weakness for wine, we’ve grown to appreciate Cersei’s scheming ways. How many of us secretly cheer her on?
One of the best ways to create strong, memorable characters is to give them a sense of purpose. What is the driving force that motivates them? For Cersei, the love of her children—and later the hunger to avenge their murders—becomes the all-powerful force that drives her actions.
What does your villain want more than anything in the world? What would he or she kill for?
What can you do to humanize your villain (e.g., Cersei’s wine problem)?
3. Let a character succeed against all the odds.
From the beginning, things were not looking good for Jon Snow. His stepmom hated him and never fully accepted him into their family. He had no choice but to leave home and join the brotherhood of the Night’s Watch guarding a giant wall of ice, possibly the worst job in the realm.
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To make matters worse, he took a vow of celibacy and swore to serve with his brothers until death. Things only got worse from there, but Jon persisted, following his instincts to do the honorable thing. Slowly he gained enough respect to become the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, the King of the North, and even beat death. Quite a turnaround.
In much the same way, the odds were stacked heavily against Daenerys Targaryen. Hunted by the ruling party of Westeros, she was exiled to faraway lands and sold by her psychotic brother to a warrior tribe, the Dothraki.
Somehow she prevailed—winning the hearts of the Dothraki people, ending up raising three baby dragons and walking through fire. As a leader, she freed entire cities from slavery.
How miserable can you make your main character’s life?
Once you’ve thought it’s the worst it can be, think of five more things that could go wrong. New writers often make the mistake of letting things go smoothly for their heroes which ends up being boring.
4. Create story arcs that later intersect.
A lot of people criticize Martin’s books for having too many characters. He has built a complex world and created an entire mythology dating back thousands of years. He can do that. After all, he’s George R.R. Martin, a master at world-building.
But for those of us just starting out with our first novels, we should keep it simple. Limit your first few books to a handful of characters before you start trying to create an epic fantasy spanning seven books.
Martin has created strong character arcs. Think about the journeys of Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, Jaime Lannister, and others. Now that the show is in its seventh season, we see characters coming together in new and interesting ways.
Consider the second episode of Season 7 where Samwell Tarly attempts to heal Jorah Mormont’s advanced grayscale. Will he heal Jorah? If so, what role will Jorah play in the coming wars? Will he be reunited with the young Lady Mormont, his niece? I can’t help but think there’s a good reason that he will overcome the disease.
Many of us are excited about the prospect of Jon Snow and Daenerys meeting. He’s on his way to meet her, so we can only hope the journey will go smoothly, but in Martin’s world, things rarely turn out as expected.
Consider writing two parallel story arcs for your characters that slowly come together over time. This is almost like writing two stories with separate main characters, but it can be an effective way to start building up to writing an epic fantasy with fifty-plus characters.
Keep the number of characters in your world simple and gain the experience of writing a superb story before you expand.
5. Surprise Your Audience.
It’s challenging to pick one single best example of all the crazy plot twists within GOT. The Red Wedding is probably the one that jumps to mind for most people. Then there’s the traitorous murder of Jon Snow by his Night’s Watchmen brothers.
You can never take anything for granted in Martin’s world. When something is going well for a character, that is probably a good sign that something awful is about to happen.
And that’s what makes the story experience so great. For one hour a week, we are transported to a world in which anything can happen.
It is extreme escapism from our daily lives. We can imagine ourselves being anything in this world—a master swordsman, a breaker of chains, or a dragon-tamer.
How can you hook your readers and make them believe they are a part of your universe?
What will get people jumping up and down cheering your main character, then later cause them to cry?
I hope these ideas have inspired you in some way to sprinkle a bit of Game of Thrones dragon dust into your storytelling.
I’m Courtney Kenney, author and book launch consultant. Like you, I’m on the author’s journey. My focus is to improve my craft, learn new marketing techniques, and sell more books as I grow my authorpreneur business. I want to share what I’ve learned to help you become a more productive and prosperous author.
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